WASHINGTON, D.C. — As of the time of this publication, the U.S. government is still pursuing all diplomatic channels to understand the precise nature of the VX nerve agent poisoning and the possible paths to impact of its use within South Africa.
According to officials, South African scientists who conducted the lab tests on the samples have submitted a partial report, which could offer clues to the identity of the nerve agent and its likely success in leaving the targeted attack site in the form of a washed-off coating of the nerve agent.
The mysterious poisoning of former South African President Nelson Mandela led to years of conspiracy theories that he had been targeted by the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin was criticized at the time for working with the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
According to one U.S. official, the 15-page report on the samples taken from the suspected nerve agent site in the town of Ficksburg does not include evidence of any physical change on the samples. There were no physical changes in the samples, but rather a “poor trace amount” of the nerve agent, according to the official.
Officials explained that samples have to be sent to multiple laboratories, including the United States. Even if a country like the United States provided samples to foreign labs for testing, other labs may not have the same capabilities.
Scientists from the two labs had sent samples from the suspected nerve agent site to the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg in South Africa, according to the U.S. government. The University of Witswatersrand then used state-of-the-art chemical testing techniques to analyze the samples and detect any structure change to the sample or a change to its other characteristics.
Similar nerve agent precursors have been detected in South Africa as well as from Bulgaria, where a Soviet-era military facility had been used to test the nerve agent.
U.S. officials said they have been in contact with U.S. law enforcement and national security agencies, as well as U.S. officials and officials from South Africa and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said the CDC is continuing to monitor other cases and if doctors spot symptoms consistent with nerve agent poisoning, they will begin testing for VX.